I am overwhelmed by the support and love you all have shown me since I announced my upcoming novel, and I want to give you something in return. I present to you the prologue of The Partition of Africa! Enjoy. 🙂
“The best laid plans of Mice and Men / Oft go awry.”
– Robert Burns
Hattie glanced up at the sound of her name, but she stayed firmly rooted in the uncomfortable chair as if she’d been cemented into place. She averted her eyes so as not to attract the nurse’s attention and pretended, if only for a moment, that she had a different name. That she was someone else.
She eyed the person closest to her, a slight girl with long, thick black hair that overwhelmed her small frame. She also nervously fidgeted with her purse, also avoided eye contact with the others in the room. Hattie wondered why the girl was there, if whatever problem had brought her inside the building was something she would be willing to take on in exchange for her own troubles.
The nurse called her name again, the monotone of her voice fading into the white noise of the unfamiliar room, and Hattie ignored her again, even though she knew she should rise and follow. After all, that’s what the receptionist had instructed her to do an hour ago when she arrived and wrote her name on the sign-in sheet marked “Walk-Ins.” When your name was called, you were supposed to rise and follow. That was how the system worked. That was the rule. And if there was one thing people knew about Hattie, it was that she unfailingly followed the rules.
But was that still true? She glanced around the room and took in the dull gray plastic chairs and their occupants, the mottled blue carpet, the dusty magazines.
No, she thought as she bent to pick up a well-worn copy of a housekeeping magazine with an array of Christmas-themed cupcakes on the cover. No, she could no longer claim to be that girl, the person she had sacrificed so much to become. If she were half as studious and obedient as everyone – herself included – had believed, she would be at the library right now, putting finishing touches on her final paper for British lit, not sitting in this cold, unwelcoming room pretending not to hear her name being called.
Her term paper. She flushed. Of all the characters she could have chosen to write on, she’d picked Tess Durbeyfield. She allowed herself a grim smile at the irony. It would be funny, really, if it weren’t so completely horrifying.
“Excuse me, is there a Harriet Greene here?”
Hattie peeked over the top of her magazine. The nurse looked oddly familiar, although Hattie couldn’t place where she’d seen her before. The woman wore bright purple scrubs and had whitish blonde hair, which was knotted in a messy pile on the top of her head. She tapped a file folder against her leg and she pursed her lips. She did not look like the sort of woman who was accustomed to being ignored.
Hattie sighed and reached for her purse. She had stalled long enough. It was time to face the music.
This was not the life she was supposed to have. For as long as she could remember, she’d had a set list of accomplishments, all arranged in an order she had determined through hours of careful planning and research. She’d had a timetable, crafted spreadsheets, made a plan. And this place – this awful, sterile room filled with rough-cut plastic furniture and miserable people – was decidedly not part of that plan, but here she was nonetheless.
Hattie wanted nothing more than to deny the situation unfolding around her, but she knew she no longer had that option. She felt like a spectator of her own life, helpless and ignorant of what was about to happen, without a shred of comfort to which she could cling.
“Did she leave, do you think?” the nurse asked the receptionist. She glanced at the clock and her eyes narrowed.
Hattie tucked her purse under her arm and stood. She tried to ignore the queasiness that swam up her body and engulfed her head. She barely managed to suppress the sudden urge to vomit. She swallowed hard and stepped forward.
“Sorry, I was distracted,” she said as she neared the nurse. “I’m Harriet Greene.”
“Finally,” the nurse said as she looked Hattie up and down. “Come on, follow me.”
As the nurse turned on her heel, her ID card fell from the clasp pn her hip and landed on the floor. She didn’t seem to notice it had fallen, so Hattie bent down to retrieve it for her.
“You dropped your ID,” she said. She turned the card over out of habit, and she saw the name printed under the washed out photograph as the nurse took the card from her.
Hattie’s head spun. She knew this woman; she hadn’t been wrong. For a moment she was afraid she would lose control and vomit right there on the waiting room floor. Out of instinct her hand slipped inside her purse and she fumbled around in search of the familiar plastic bottle before she stopped short. That was no longer a choice she could make.
She clenched her hands into tight fists. She would remain calm.
She had no other option.